An elephant narrowly survived a poaching attack in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park last month—for the fourth time in two years.
Mshale, believed to be in his 40s, is one of the park’s few remaining “tuskers,” The Times of London reports. The moniker refers to elephants whose tusks weigh more than 100 pounds each. Ivory tusks of this size can sell for up to $16,000 in illegal Asian markets.
An observer with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust monitoring poaching from an aircraft spotted the injured pachyderm. “He had two large and deep spear wounds, which had to be cleaned,” the trust’s director, Rob Brandford, told The Times. “One had passed through his ear deep into his neck, the other into his back.” If veterinarians from Kenya Wildlife Service had not removed the metal spikes and disinfected the animal’s wounds, Mshale would have died within two weeks.
Mshale was first shot with a poisoned arrow in 2012, and again in March and August 2013. The poachers’ weapon of choice, the AK-47, has fallen out of favor in Kenya because citizens have been reporting gunshots to wildlife authorities more frequently. The reversion to prehistoric technology requires poachers to follow their prey around for days, waiting for the intelligent and highly social animals to die of their wounds.
That gave Mshale the time he needed to seek help, Brandford believes.
“He has been treated three times before, and he knows where help lies,” he told The Times. “We believe Mshale came back despite his poor body condition—caused by his wound—so that he could be treated and saved one more time.”
Poachers slaughter one elephant every 15 minutes; the largest living land animal’s population has been reduced 75 percent since 1980. Despite a worldwide ban on the ivory trade, as much as 70 percent of illegal ivory ends up in China, where a growing middle class has created an increasing demand for ivory chopsticks, jewelry, and other ornaments.